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How to Cross the Street in Manila Traffic

Remember, Most People Aren't Trying to Kill You Here

One of the great things about the Philippines is you can walk in traffic. You can't cross a major thoroughfare like Roxas Blvd. in Manila against the light; you'll get run down here as surely as you would on New York's Fifth Ave. or any street in Italy. A few other major streets are sealed off from pedestrians, and it would be suicidal to try to cross them on foot.

Traffic in Manila is no joke. It can cause delays of an hour or more on a routine jaunt, and is a major impediment to the city's potential as a regional or world business center.

But meander on out into any number of streets in Manila, or along the Gen. Macarthur Highway in Pampanga where I live, and you'll make it across without incident.

The thing to remember is "these drivers don't really want to kill me." This is a ludicrous concept to Americans raised on confrontation and road rage. I routinely have near-death experiences in mini-mall parking lots in California. In the Philippines, though, the non-confrontational nature of most of Asia is apparent on its roadways. You'll get honked at, sure, but as a warning, not a threat. The trikes will buzz by you with inches to spare, the jeeps with about two feet.

Only the rare Kano or upwardly mobile pinoy in a nice, big SUV pose a risk. They don't honk out of courtesy, as the trikes and jeeps do, but out of a desire for you to get the f--- out of the way. The large trucks are dangerous, too, in that they can't shift lanes or stop quickly, so it's best to wait for them.

But generally speaking, you can just walk right through the one lane of roadway that acommodates three lanes of traffic--or the four lanes of roadway that accommodate 10 lanes of traffic--without fear. You can even do it using the steady amble employed by most people in the heat and humidity of the Philippines, as long as you keep moving and make eye contact with all the folks bearing down on you.

(In Manila, I prefer to take one of the two rail-transit systems in the city. A single trip costs as little as 20 cents, and although the trains can be extremely crowded, I'm tall enough there to keep my nose above most peoples' heads rather than in their armpits.)

The same principle of non-confrontation applies to traffic in India as well. But there's a much higher degree of difficulty, given that the traffic is heavier, driving is done on the left side of the road, and the ubiquitous Bajaj taxis and autorickshaws (similar to the tuk-tuks of Thailand) are accompanied by bicycles, pullcarts, cows, and many, many people.

The horn is known as "the third brake" in India, and is used by every driver every two seconds or so. It does nothing to improve the flow of traffic. It also makes crossing the street an unnerving experience. My experience is that I can get halfway across to the median if there is one, then make it the rest of the way with some effort and not more than two brushes with death. With no median, I have no chance.

So in this category, I favor the Philippines over India. Come to think of it, I like the Philippine weather more than that of India, too. But don't worry, India, as I continue to write about Asia, I'm sure you'll win many comparison tests. I like your food better than Filipino food, for one thing.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.